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Self-Folding Nanotech Creates Origami Bird, Presages Nanoscale Robots

By Cornell Chronicle

March 18, 2021

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Cornell researchers have created micron-sized shape memory actuators that enable atomically thin two-dimensional materials to fold themselves into 3D configurations. All they require is a quick jolt of voltage. Once the material is bent, it holds its shape.

As a demonstration, the team created what is potentially the world's smallest self-folding origami bird.

The group describes their work in "Micrometer-Sized Electrically Programmable Shape Memory Actuators for Low-Power Microrobotics," published in Science Robotics.

The research is a step in "learning how to construct machines that are as small as cells," says Paul McEuen, the John A. Newman Professor of Physical Science at Cornell University.

The actuators consist of a nanometer-thin layer of platinum capped with a titanium or titanium dioxide film. Several rigid panels of silicon dioxide glass sit atop those layers. When a positive voltage is applied to the actuators, oxygen atoms are driven into the platinum and swap places with platinum atoms. This oxidation process causes the platinum to expand on one side in the seams between the inert glass panels, which bends the structure into its predesignated shape.

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